Travel Welfare Limited was set up in 2011,with Alch3mist Media Limited and James Wyatt as its shareholders. It qualifies as an SME by HMRC's standards, so has been able to take advantage of the best aspects of the R&D Tax Credits scheme.
Travel Welfare's founders are experts in streamlining and reducing costs in the airline industry, so they decided to take a closer look at one of its weakest points - tackling the way travellers are taken care of at airports when their flights are delayed.
With delays being unavoidable, this can be a huge part of the whole travelling experience for a lot of people, and Travel Welfare quickly realised that the system was in serious need of modernisation.
Right now, delayed passengers are compensated for refreshments through an unaccountable paper voucher scheme. The system's been run this way for decades, can be needlessly inefficient and has many loopholes for misuse by both passengers and staff.
Nearly every other aspect of cost reduction in an airline operation has been minutely analysed, but this voucher system has remained the same for over thirty years. It's basically a regulative and administrative nightmare for airlines.
Project – Airline "Passenger Delay" Card
Under current EU legislation, airlines have to provide food and drink to passengers who are delayed - although the guidelines tend to be interpreted differently by each airline. When a delay is confirmed, the current outdated system uses a paper voucher issued by the airline to the passenger. The voucher is then redeemable in the airport's food retail outlets. Naturally enough, these outdated paper vouchers are valuable currency, and staff have been known to abuse the system by using them for their own personal use.
In addition, the food retailers then have to ‘cash up’ these vouchers and send them to the airline to claim the money back. Retailers can often lose these vouchers, or return them in huge batches weeks apart. It is not unknown for a single batch from one retailer to total £100,000, meaning serious headaches for the airlines' budgeting and repayment.
Seeing an opportunity to bring the whole system up to date, Travel Welfare got to work developing a plastic card to be issued by the airline to the delayed traveller. Crucially, the card can be tracked, and each airline can set its own data on it according to its own policies.
The new system developed by Travel Welfare provides a plastic card issued by the airline to the delayed traveller. The card holds the monetary amount available and the passenger number, making all transactions completely traceable right from issue.
The card not only tracks where and when the food and drink purchase was spent, but can also reclaim any unused amounts for the airline, which would normally have been lost. The card's deactivated when the aircraft takes off - but if the flight's delayed again, it can be updated. This means the passenger doesn't even need to return to the issuing desk.
Travel Welfare is now operating the card system at over 80 airports.
Sector Level Issues and Detail of Technical Uncertainties
The outdated paper system is open to misuse by both passengers and staff.
It's also needlessly complicated in practice, with vouchers having to be manually reissued if a flight is delayed again. It's a time-consuming and inconvenient process for the traveller and the airline.
Matching the paper vouchers to passengers' digital details also wastes a lot of time.
Lost vouchers are a real problem for retailers, as they can't claim the money back from the airline without them. Delays in receiving the vouchers from retailers can be a burden for the airlines, too.
Commercial Objective and Technological advance sought by the project
To find a new, cost-effective system for compensating flight delayed passengers that will benefit the passenger, retail outlets and the airlines alike.
To find an electronic solution to the paper-based voucher system.
To develop an alternative system that would eradicate misuse by stranded travellers and members of staff.
To develop card technology that allows airlines to apply their interpretation of EU guidelines.
To find an easier way for the food retail outlets to redeem the vouchers.
Within the system, allow for the card to be updated if there are further delays to a flight, without the need for the passenger to return to the airline desk.
Develop an electronic system that can match the card used for food and drink purchases against the electronic passenger and flight details held.
Testimonial from Stuart Fullarton, Director at Travel Welfare
"Obviously, you hear stories of the government making funds available, but you don't tend to think that it's right for our sector.
"The process from start to finish was extremely simple for us. We were interviewed by someone from RIFT. They came back and said that they felt there was a case in question and that it would be successful. We were able to get about £8,500 back from the government.
"Working with RIFT as partners was simple. They contacted us when they said they would, and they chased up the payments when they said they would. We did have a little delay from HMRC about receiving the funds, but the lady at RIFT followed it up and did all the legwork for us. All I had to do was sit back and wait. The hardest thing for us was taking the cheque to the bank.
"There's nothing to lose, and all to gain. It doesn't cost anything to have the conversation."
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